Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Since then I have traveled extensively, and have been to nearly 75 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on I have made friends all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met in the past and present and hopefully will meet in the future.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

And The Beat Goes On...

And the fun just never stops! The Viking Club (Scandinavian gathering, with some foreigners thrown in) had its monthly meeting on the first Thursday in October, as usual. This month’s special activity was a Karaoke Night, with prizes to the person voted by the audience as Best Karaoke personage. With the Pros from Dover not in attendance (i.e., Stuart and Mark), it was the Amateur from Albuquerque who walked off with first prize. Yep, Yours Truly wowed ‘em with songs and techniques honed to perfection at The Stage’s Friday night spectaculars. The champagne lasted two days, and the coupons for a local bookstore were put to good use within the week.

The Brit Club had its First Annual Latin Night the following evening. It wasn’t a huge crowd, but it was fun. We had a salsa dancing demonstration, Latin cocktails and chips and dip. I met the cousin of a local friend of mine from Azerbaijan, and got an invitation to visit Bakul, so the night wasn’t a complete loss!

And - Big News - there’s a new Scottish bar in town, The Caledonia, just off Jokai Ter. Since Budapest is mainly a restaurant culture, we actually have very few real bars in town, and this one is a great addition. We’ve already sampled many of its wares, including Scottish beer, and its Scottish breakfast, served all day, is a real treat. Okay, it’s not Denny’s Grand Slam, but in a city suffering from a lack of good breakfasts, it’s a real treat. We’re looking forward to many good nights and Sunday breakfasts at The Caledonia.

My Around-the-World trip planning is coming along nicely. Tickets are in hand, most accommodation is booked, and I can start packing soon. So, my itinerary will be as follows: two weeks in LA with Morgan and Tony and the grandkids, then off to Australia for another couple of weeks. I’ll visit friends in Sydney, Wollongong, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Then an overnighter in Singapore, to take the highly-touted Nighttime Safari through their wild animal park, and, naturally, to have a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar of the famous Raffles Hotel. Six days at the Royal Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, then a week’s tour in India, taking in Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. Not too shabby, hah?

Since we had a holiday on Monday, October 23, I decided on a nice long weekend trip to Sofia, Bulgaria. I left Budapest on a sunny Friday afternoon, October 20, 2006, and arrived on the same sunny afternoon in Sofia. I checked into the Hotel Hemus, which was “near the city center,” according to my booking agent. I guess that was true if you consider a 25-minute walk to get to the main part of town “near.”

At any rate, the hotel was an 18-story glass behemoth, but with rather basic rooms for all that glitter on the outside. I caught a taxi to the downtown area, with a driver who spoke fluent, if broken, English, and who entertained me the entire way. And he was delighted at my attempts to use the basic Bulgarian I had studied in my guide book. Traffic was heavy, and the charge was 15 Lei (about $10 US) for what should have been a two-lei trip. But the driver’s floor show was worth the extra fare.

So I was on Kunigradska street, famous as the home of JJ Murphy’s Irish pub. And so it was! I had a Guinness, then checked out Vitosha street, the main shopping drag. Back to Murphy’s, I sat at the bar and had Shepherd’s Pie for dinner, along with more Guinness. After dinner, I asked the 50-ish woman sitting next to me if there would be live music that evening. Well, it was like releasing the spring on a tightly-wound carnival barker. The woman never shut up! She had ideas on everything from the current economic situation in the US to my finding an apartment in Sofia and settling down there. But Julia was a nice person and it sure beat sitting there by myself getting drunk.

In the morning I did the city walk. I saw big churches and statues and wide and narrow streets. I saw small flea markets, replete with little wrinkled old ladies who tried to sell me embroidered goods. I followed the yellow brick road (Yep, they actually have one there, paved with bricks painted a dark golden color) back through pretty parks into the center of town and checked out the TSUM department store. The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm.

After a three-hour walk, I settled into Murphy’s again for lunch and a rugby match on TV. After my walk and lunch, it was nap time, so I did. Later that afternoon, I found another Irish Bar, The Irish Harp, and had several Murphy’s Red there. A stray, slightly inebriated German struck up a conversation with me at the bar, and we talked the evening away. His girl friend showed up eventually, about the time Agi told me he firmly believed everything he had seen in Michael Moore’s movies about America was true .

Well, I usually don’t get involved in political discussions, but Michael Moore? That asshole?! I felt I had to try and set Agi straight, but I should have known better. He was a touch more in his cups by that time, and heard only the sound of his own voice. I finally gave up and took off to look for dinner. I eventually found Checkpoint Charlie’s, an upscale restaurant not too far away. A very nice place, good food, good service, and a nice dinner with wine only ran me about $25. Not bad. They even had a live jazz combo to liven things up.

Sunday morning I saw the Lion’s Gate, walked back to the city center past the largest Sephardic synagogue in Europe and found the Dunkin Donuts shop. Mmmmm. They aren’t Krispy Kreme, but they aren’t bad. I had lunch at the Irish Harp and watched the Manchester United/Liverpool football game Back to Murphy’s for another footie, then to the Vitosha restaurant for a dinner of flaming rabbit stew. Yum. On the way in I had noticed several rabbits in a cage. I guessed these were the ones the restaurant killed and offered to us for dinner. The show of traditional Bulgarian folk dances was fun, but, hey, if you’ve ever seen one traditional folk dance show anywhere in Europe you’ve pretty much seen them all.

Monday was my last day in Sofia (or so I thought!), and I took it easy until I was whisked off to the airport around 3 PM. Imagine my surprise and consternation when I went to check in and saw on the Departures board that my flight had been canceled! Oh, Joy! Well, we were told we would fly at 8 o’clock the next morning, so I found a hotel, had dinner and drinks, and watched some TV. Hit the sack early, as my wake-up call came at 5 AM.

So, up at five, back to the airport by 6, checked in OK, cleared Passport Control into the Departure area and waited to leave. Delay, delay, delay - shit! Again, the flight was canceled. We were told around 10:30 that we would probably be able to leave around 5:45 that afternoon. But the best part was the fact that, since we had cleared Passport Control, we couldn’t go back out. Stuck in a small area, two tiny snack bars, no TV, not really anything to do, for nearly 12 hours. How much fun was that!

Anyway, time passed, as it has a habit of doing. I did make a new friend, a young Hungarian woman named Dora, who books concerts for the Budapest Fine Arts Palace. She promised to get me tickets for an upcoming concert. Cool! She even offered me a ride home when we got back to Budapest, saying her mother was on the way to pick her up. 10 minutes max. I could have taken my usual route home, via bus and metro, but it was raining and she was good company, and I didn’t have anything pressing to do, so I decided to take her up on her offer. Well, mom finally arrived after a 50-minute wait! I could have been home and in bed by then, but what the hell.

I finally got home around 7 PM. Decided to grab dinner at the Vendiak restaurant, next to my flat, along with some wine. While at the bar I hooked up with two Scottish high-school physics teachers and a Dutch visitor from Finland. We drank lots of wine and beer and had a fun evening discussing a wide range of topics and listening to the jazz combo. And that, my friends, is the story of my weekend in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Near future events include another Pub Quiz at the Britannia Club on November 3, possible Thanksgiving Day outings, and our 5th Annual Sagittarian Birthday Party on December 8. Will update here again before I take off around the world; also hope some of my friends and readers have actually found this site and write me back. Y’all take care.